The bar for South Korean zombie movies, or for any kind of zombie movie for that matter, was set exceptionally high when Train to Busan was released back in 2016. #Alive, which arrived on Netflix earlier this week, having premiered in its home country of South Korea back in June, had a lot to live up to. But by focusing primarily on just a single character, #Alive manages to deliver a quarantine story that we can all relate to after the chaos and uncertainty of 2020 and brings a touch of originality to a very familiar genre.
#Alive certainly doesn’t waste much time in dropping us straight into the zombie apocalypse. Young gamer Oh Joon-woo wakes up at 10 am, alone in the high-rise apartment that he shares with his parents. A note left by them tells us that they’ve gone away for a few days, leaving Oh Joon-woo to fend for himself. “Make sure you pick up some groceries”, his mum tells him, but instead he heads back to his room and begins playing an online game with some friends. But shortly into their game, his friends are distracted by some disturbing news reports on the TV, so Oh Joon-woo goes to check for himself.
He doesn’t need to watch much of the news on TV before realising that he can look outside of his apartment window and see for himself what the panic is all about. Down on the streets, people are running and screaming in all directions while others are in a frenzied state, attacking and biting everyone around them. Family members turn on each other, a fire truck crashes into a row of cars, and a nearby explosion quickly sends a dazed and confused Oh Joon-woo back inside his apartment.
The news reports talk of people quickly turning violent and attacking others, immediately passing on whatever it is that has turned them into crazed zombies. It describes how you can tell a person is turning because they will be bleeding from the eyes. “Citizens must stay home and avoid going out.” is the advice given. Sound familiar?
Oh Joon-woo does what a lot of us probably did during lockdown – he plays video games, drinks his dad’s alcohol, and tries to just ride it all out the best he can. He quickly regrets ignoring his mum’s request to go and buy groceries though, as he lays out the very small amount of mostly unhealthy food items that are in the apartment out onto the table, and separates them into meals for each day over the coming week or so.
Days pass, but without any sign of the outside chaos subsiding. There are still zombies down on the streets, taking out any unfortunate survivor unlucky enough to be outside, and any investigative trips outside the apartment front door are fraught with danger. We’ve now passed day 20, and Oh Joon-woo is struggling.
At his lowest point, Oh Joon-woo notices a laser pointer shining into his apartment from the high-rise opposite. When he goes to investigate, he sees that there is another survivor looking back at him. Kim Yoo-bin is also at a fairly low point in her life, but with food, weapons and homemade zombie traps, she appears to be a bit of a badass, clearly better equipped at dealing with the crisis than Oh Joon-woo. She initially thinks Oh Joon-woo is an idiot, sending food across a wire that they manage to set up between their buildings so that he doesn’t starve. But they soon form a close bond, sending messages to each other before eventually employing the use of walkie-talkies so that they can discuss a way out of their predicament.
#Alive taps into the feelings that so many of us will have felt during lockdown this year – feeling isolated, lonely, scared. It’s the quiet human moments that work so well here, especially with the introduction of a friend and an ally in the form of Kim Yoo-bin. Finding each other does literally save both of their lives.
But it’s never too long before we’re jolted right back into some zombie action, and thankfully that aspect doesn’t disappoint. The news reports had already informed us that the zombies appeared to be able to remember certain human actions from before they turned, such as opening doors. They even appear to retain aspects of behaviour from their human occupations. This makes for some entertaining and unpredictable zombie fun, most notably a firefighter zombie who scales the outside of the high-rise in an attempt to try and reach Kim Yoo-bin.
There’s a late plot twist and a deus ex machina which may seem like a bit of a cop-out for some, but overall #Alive is certainly a worthwhile watch for fans of zombie action with a focus on the human characters.